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Dr. Laura L. Runge
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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 4

Reading Assignment:

    Sept. 1: Perrine, chs. 6-8
    Group A: Post 2
    "A Considerable Speck (Microscopic)" by Robert Frost (Perrine pp 126-7)

Class Objectives:

  • Identifying symbol and allegory.
  • Identifying paradox, overstatement, understatement, irony.
  • Identifying allusion.
  • Determining what symbol, allegory, paradox, overstatement, understatement, irony and allusion contribute to a poem


    In the interest of seeing things through, I would like the class to begin on Wednesday by continuing to discuss Donne's "A Valediction." We have worked through the paraphrase, and we have identified the speaker, the occasion, and to some extent the purpose. We have also worked out a number of the metaphors. What we need to do now is return to the question of the poem's purpose and discuss how it achieves its ends. This will lead us directly to the way that Donne sets up a series of metaphors. What do these images have in common, if anything? Notice the degree of scientific imagery -- spheres, cosmology, geometry, circles. Is this imagery effective in conveying his thoughts to his lover? Why or why not? Can you think of another audience for whom this imagery might be intended?


    As we move on to address the terms and information for this class, keep the following vocabulary in mind. Perrine describes and explains them on the pages noted.

  • symbol (91)
  • allegory (99)
  • paradox (112)
  • overstatement or hyperbole (113)
  • understatement (114)
  • irony and verbal irony (116)
  • dramatic irony (119)
  • irony of situation (120)
  • allusion (135)
  • apostrophe (75)

    "Image metaphor, and symbol shade into each other and are sometimes difficult to distinguish. In general, however, an image means only what it is; the figurative term in a metaphor means something other than what it is; and a symbol means what it is and something more, too. A symbol, that is, functions literally and figuratively at the same time" (91). These distinctions may help you break down the devices you find in a poem and guide your reading of the meaning of the figurative device.

    Perrine cautions us several times, on the hazards of overreading or misreading a symbol in poetry. "Both its richness and its difficulty result from its imprecision" (91). He suggests a useful comparison to guide your reading: "A symbol defines an AREA of meaning, and any interpretation that falls wthin that area is permissible. In Blake's poem the rose stands for something beautiful, or desirable, or good. The worm stands for some corrupting agent. Within these limits, the meaning is largely "open." And because the meaning is open, the reader is justified in bringing personal experience to its interpretation"(95).

    How does this strategy for reading the meaning of a symbol differ from what is expected from a metaphor?

    Remember: "Whatever our interpretation of a symbolic poem, it must be tied firmly to the facts of the poem" (97).


    The terms in this section are extremely important figures of logic that are frequently employed in poetry. Almost all of them have to do with a break between language and meaning that relies on your critical thinking to supply comprehension. They work effectively in poetry when they cause the reader to pause and consider the unexpected.

    Perrine writes: "In a paradoxical statement the contradiction usually stems from one of the words being used figuratively or with more than one denotation." This may help you identify with precision the components of a paradox.

    "The value of a paradox is its shock value. Its seeming impossibility startles the reader into attention and, by the fact of its apparent absurdity, underscores the truth of what is being said" (112).

    Perrine usefully gathers overstatement or hyperbole, understatement and verbal irony into what he calls "a continuous series, for they consist, respectively, of saying more, saying less, and saying the opposite of what one really means" (113). I confess, I have always used a more generous definition of verbal irony, but we will go with Perrine's definition for its practicality.

    While there are many excellent books on satire that will challenge some of Perrine's definitions for the following terms, I do believe the book offers us a genuinely useful and accessible set of definitions with which to work. His use of sarcasm limits that term to bitter or cutting speech, intended to wound. His description of the capacious category of satire alludes to its formal nature and purpose -- to mock the folly and vice of society with the intent of correcting it. He breaks down IRONY into three categories for poetry:

  • verbal irony -- or saying the opposite of what one means ("Barbie Doll")
  • dramatic irony -- presents a discrepancy between what a poetic speaker says and means and what the poem ultimately means ("Chimney Sweep")
  • irony of situation -- presents a discrepancy between the actual circumstances of the poem and what would seem appropriate; OR, between what one (the reader/ the speaker) anticipates and what actually comes to pass ("Ozymandias")

    For our class, we will be spending some time discussing the levels of irony present in Frost's poem "A Considerable Speck." There are examples of verbal irony and irony of situation. As you read the poem, consider the aim or direction of the irony. At whom, for example, are the closing lines directed?


    Allusions are an important tool for the poet, and they are crucial for understanding the meaning of certain poems. However, as Perrine points out, they are in many ways dependent upon your reading and background. We will all have different experiences with allusions, and so, when you identify an allusion, speak up and share it with the rest of us. We will practice identifying the allusions and tying the original into the poem at hand. Always, we will look for what it contributes to the meaning of the poem.

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